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Equality in lacrosse
In a society where women’s inequality is unlearned and less apparent due to societal expectations acting as a parasite to the sport of female lacrosse, it makes players just want to be treated as an athlete rather than a “girl.” Nationwide, female athletes face inequalities. Everything from the rules, uniform, equipment and the way they are looked at is different from their male counterparts.
Many women want to be able to be as physical as their male peers are in lacrosse, but instead they have resorted to a more technical style of play as an alternative to the sport of play that is predominantly dictated by physical contact since biased game rules have restricted them.
Kaleigh Bruss is an attacker for the Flagler College Lacrosse team and wears jersey number 29. She is disheartened that women can’t be physical like their male counterparts.
“It's not as physical and I wish that it was more physical and it was a contact sport,” Bruss said. “I think that also with women’s lacrosse it is a lot more complex because you can't make contact.”
Even the tools and equipment needed for play are affected in Women’s lacrosse. Sticks for the female team are made out of thick strings or leathers which are usually tied tightly and run lengthwise, making the pocket of the stick shallow. On the contrary, the men’s lacrosse sticks are made of mesh and have a soft deep pocket making it easier to cradle and keep the ball inside the stick pocket. This is an evident difference that corresponds with systematic gender roles.
“It's so much harder to have to cradle with a woman's stick,” Bruss said. “The men’s are deeper and so it's a completely different thing like with stickhandling it's so much harder to really control the ball.”
A female lacrosse stick demands for players to have more mental skill and composure than their male counterparts. Even though mental skill is not a negative quality to have, equity is still at stake. Grant Kelam, Flagler's women’s lacrosse head coach, acknowledges how much harder it is to throw and catch with a women's stick.
“So one of the biggest things is the amount of talent and skill required in women's lacrosse versus men's lacrosse,” Kelam said. “And with a women's stick you have to be fundamentally sound in order to throw the ball accurately and efficiently, consistently. And so I tell them all the time, like hey, you're looking to correct that guy's throwing mechanics. Give them a women's stick, because they won't be able to throw sidearm with a women's stick.”
Female lacrosse players are still forced to wear skirts instead of shorts for their uniform. This is a gendered idea that was inserted into the women’s game of lacrosse. Kelam is supportive with his team and makes sure at all costs that they are going to be treated equally. Women and their rights are backed by male allies and not just supported by other females.
“And one of the big things that I think I've done with the teams that I've coached is that my roster, see, I'm not just going to take no for an answer. We demand to be treated equally, at every turn. It's not okay. And I think with my upbringing, and you know, being on the men's side of sports growing up, I know what we were given on men’s teams, right,” Kelam said.
Female Lacrosse players are unsatisfied that, in men’s lacrosse, checking is allowed while in women's lacrosse it is not. The players feel as if they are being looked at as unable to handle contact when lacrosse is supposed to be a contact sport. This also exemplifies the treatment of bias they receive.
“So I really know the men’s sport [lacrosse] pretty well,” Davis said, alluding to growing up watching her brothers play. “Honestly I feel like the women aren't given enough credit. I feel like it could be a lot more of a physical sport but given the rules we aren't given the opportunity to play like the guys.”
The lacrosse field size for the men's team is 110x60-yards but the women's field is thirty yards longer and stands at a size of 120x70 yards. These differences can lead to more fatigue for female players. This could tie into the original systematic issue of suppressing women not only in sports but education and ownership as well.
There are stereotypes that are put on female athletes that affect the players. Flagler College players feel the judgment on the field including Sadie Davis, a freshman defender, who wears jersey number 14 for the Saints.
“I think being a female athlete in any sport is pretty difficult but lacrosse itself is such an underrated sport that I feel like there is a lot more judgment to go there. I just feel like it's a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure to succeed and do well,” Davis said.
The NCAA spends about $53,211 to promote the Division I men’s lacrosse championship but only about $17,396 on the women's championship. In the 2021 championships the NCAA made sure that the staff was more equal in comparison to the men's championship. If you are unfamiliar with what happened during last year's march madness, Oregon forward Sedona Prince showed the meal differences, equipment differences and other actions of inequality that the women player faced in a TikTok video. Prince’s viral march madness video encouraged other sports to make changes to make sure they are treating men's and women's sports equally.
Flagler female lacrosse players think they don’t have equal rules because they are undervalued.
“They don't believe that all girls can play that level but I mean you look at top five Division One schools and they're shooting 100mph,” Davis said.
Will Horn, a sophomore men's lacrosse player at Flagler shows support for female lacrosse players.
“I don’t think that they should be confined to skirts because they’re girls. They also should not be looked at differently due to their gender,” Horn said.
Gender inequality in sports is a controversial issue that will continue to be discussed until there is a resolution. The only way to diminish the gap between men and women is by continuing the discussion of these issues. Female athletes deserve to feel equally appreciated and treated. Women’s sports aren’t publicized as much as men's sports and this change can make a difference.
Even though female athletes are undervalued they are still able to confide in one another. The Flagler Women's lacrosse team is like a family and is always there for one another.
“We're all coming from different places, different backgrounds and having a group of girls coming to this place where you know now people are from here and you can just rely on each other,” Bruss said.
Bruss enjoys building the relationships she has cultivated. Her previous coaches engraved in her mind the importance of team chemistry for female sports.
“They [Bruss’ coaches] said that the girls that they played with in college where the girls that like were their bridesmaids,” Bruss said. “Having the aspect of family away from home and girls who play sports. I feel like her, more grittier you know.”
Fixing inequality in women's sports has to start with women. Women need to support women if they want to see change. Coach Kelam urges this mutual support and camaraderie.
“So if you want people to care about women's sports, women have to show up to women's sports,” Kelam said. “As women, we need to go support the softball team. We need to go support the tennis team. We need to go support the Women's Lacrosse team and get out there and enjoy watching our fellow classmates and what not and compete at what they do and cheer them on. Because that, I think, is the one thing that is still missing in the final piece of the puzzle.”
Gabby Alfveby, author
Current Flagler College student, writer and athlete. Gabby is also the journalist intern for STArt Now's partner, Narrow Magazine
Kathryn Hennessy, photographer
Kathryn is a current Flagler College student and freelance photographer as well as Narrow Magazines additional intern